A City of the Future: Exploring Downtown Chongqing

This is Part 3 in my series on Chongqing. For the rest, continue reading via the links below!

I: Chongqing: An Introduction
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I: Sampling the Delights of Sichuan Cuisine
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II: Adventures in Modern Chongqing
IV: Exploring Chongqing’s Old Town
V: Hotel Review: Westin Chongqing Liberation Square

As mentioned in my introduction to this series, my opinion is that Chongqing as a city best epitomizes the present state of modern-day China. Everything happening at the city level in Chongqing is directly reflective of what’s happening across China. Buildings are being constructed and torn down at record pace, tunnels for new MRT lines are being drilled, and fancy new luxury hotels are popping up everywhere. Chongqing’s Jiangbei International Airport is about to embark on an ambitious growth program, with international arrivals set to skyrocket, especially after the recent inauguration of nonstop flights to London, Auckland, Singapore, and other global cities. 

At the same time however, families are having their houses repossessed (or torn down entirely), the cost of living is rising, and pollution remains an ever-present health hazard. It’s less of an issue in Chongqing than in other cities like Beijing or Shanghai, but it’s still a significant concern. Just like China itself, Chongqing is a paradox – it’s a city being developed at an unprecedented rate, but with significant underlying problems that may prove difficult to fix, if not intractable. Chongqing reminds me of what the future might look like for many megacities, right down to the enduring climate issues and widening income gap.

Clearly, it’s a complicated situation. But all of these factors make modern-day Chongqing a fascinating place to explore in its own right. The guide that follows will be a brief overview of the main areas to check out within the city center, and I’ll reserve a separate post detailing how you can see Chongqing’s former way of life in its well-preserved old city.

The heart of modern Chongqing is Jiefangbei, the city’s central business district. If you visit Chongqing, I’d recommend staying either here, or Yuifong (sp) on the northern side of the Yangtze River. Both have good connectivity to the rest of the city, but I’d recommend staying in Jiefangbei as that’s where all of the action is. Chongqing’s city planners clearly did a good job planning the city center, as this area is a joy to walk around. There’s beautiful parks to explore, winding footpaths to wander down, and creative architecture that just might blow your mind.

From Jiefangbei, one can take a pleasant walk down the twisting city streets to Hongyadong, which I’ve mentioned previously and highly recommend visiting. This is a great place to take a lunch break, and I found it fascinating just wandering through the market, looking at the many different crafts and handmade goods for sale. There’s several nice cafes here that have a beautiful view of the Yangtze River, and one could do worse than to spend a few hours here.

One thing modern Chongqing is undeniably famous for is its architecture. As I walked its streets, I found numerous buildings with architecture I hadn’t seen anywhere else (including the Chongqing Opera House, the bizarre-looking Chongqing Art Gallery, and the classy World Financial Center). Each of these buildings are quite unique, and are well worth exploring for an afternoon. 

chongqing-art-museum

Heading out of Jiefangbei, one can also take Chongqing’s aging cableway from the CBD to the less developed (but still thriving) district of x. The 10-minute ride across the Yangtze offers up some beautiful views, and being crammed into a tiny box with 50 of your loudest friends is an experience to remember. Once on the other side, however, there’s plenty to see. You can hike up to x, a scenic viewpoint with beautiful views of the city, or browse the various malls dotting the riverside. I’d particularly recommend seeking out lunch at Tong, a modern Sichuan restaurant that offers up a delicious take on the local lunch staple, Dan Dan Mian. This area of town is nice to visit in the afternoon, as you can then take the cable car back in the evening just before sunset, for some excellent views of the city.

Once night falls, another aspect of Chongqing worth exploring is its nightlife. For years, Chongqing was a relative cultural backwater, but a proliferation of bars and clubs has arrived in this megacity, and it’s for the better. Classy bars like x at Westin Chongqing offer up a cozy ambience and jaw-dropping views of the city, while clubs like x will keep you dancing till the wee hours of the morning with pulsating beats. Chongqing at night is quite the adventure, so go out, explore the city, and chat with the locals if your Mandarin is up to par. This slice of the city is becoming just as much a part of the local culture as mainstays like Hongyadong – just make sure to budget before heading out, as drink prices will likely be higher than you might expect.

Exploring modern Chongqing is fascinating in all aspects. For me, it was intriguing to see the contrast of relentless urbanization and traditional customs. At 7am every day, a large group of senior citizen congregates every day at Liberation Square, in the heart of the CBD, to practice Tai Chi. These rituals, and others like it, are happening every day across the city. As China’s economic engine hums along, tectonic changes continue to take place throughout society, but it’s encouraging to see that in Chongqing, traditional culture is still thriving – both in its modern city center, and further afield in the few remaining historic districts as well.